Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

August 13, 2021

At Harvard Law School: "Working to offer legal protections for people in polyamorous relationships"

Harvard Law Today

There's nothing like having your legal cause picked up at a world-renowned law school to bring attention to your nascent issue.

Remember SomervilleCambridge, and Arlington, Mass.? Each enacted laws within the last 14 months so that three or more people living in polyamorous and other multiple partnerships can get recognized as actual, legal domestic partners, with rights and benefits accruing thereto. It's a long way from group marriage, but hey.

Aiding the last two of those drives, and now aiding other local poly-rights efforts gathering steam around the United States, is PLAC, the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition.

PLAC was born late last year under the umbrella of the Harvard Law School's LGBTQA+ Advocacy Clinic. Its founders included the Clinic's own founder, Alexander Chen, Esq., along with some well-known figures in poly and queer chosen-family law: Kimberly Rhoten, Esq.; Heron Greenesmith, Esq.; Diana Adams, Esq.; Andy Izenson, Esq.; and Dr. Heath Schechinger, who co-chairs the American Psychological Association's Division 44 Committee on Consensual Non-Monogamy.

Pretty impressive crew. Details.

Now Harvard Law Today, an official Harvard Law School publication, has published this laudatory article with a lot of the background: Polyamory and the law. (Aug. 3)

Alexander Chen '15, director of the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic at HLS, is working with students to offer legal protections for people in polyamorous relationships.

Claudio Schwarz / Unsplash
By Elaine McArdle

Natasha Aggarwal LL.M. ’21 didn’t know much about polyamory until last spring, when she became a clinical student in the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Clinic at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. But after working at the clinic with the newly created Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, Aggarwal, a corporate lawyer from India who came to HLS last year to study feminist theory, says: “Now I feel very, very strongly about it.”

Natasha Aggarwal, class of 2021

“People have been fired from work because their boss discovered they were polyamorous,” says Aggarwal, who is continuing her work as a summer fellow in the clinic. “It’s a problem for health insurance, for living arrangements such as leases and deeds,” she says, naming “a few of the areas that need legal protection.”

Polyamory is a form of non-monogamous relationship involving more than two adult partners at the same time, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved, according to Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, also known as PLAC, which was established in the fall of 2020 by a psychologist and five lawyers focused on LGBTQ+ issues....

These types of relationships are becoming increasingly common, according to PLAC, which notes that 4 to 5 percent of people in the U.S. are in a consensual non-monogamous relationship. Polyamory stands out from other such relationships, PLAC explains, because polyamorists tend to be open to falling in love with more than one person. ...Yet... polyamorous relationships have few legal protections and people and families face discrimination in such basic needs as jobs, housing, and obtaining health insurance for more than one partner.

Formed as a coalition of academic and legal professionals, PLAC works to advance the civil and human rights of polyamorous people, communities, and families through legislative advocacy, public policy, and public education. Now, after years of stasis in the movement for rights, the past year has seen unprecedented success. ...

...PLAC worked on both the Cambridge and Arlington efforts, and is now working with advocates in California on domestic partnerships and non-discrimination legislation.

“After Somerville, there was a huge wave of excitement within the polyamorous community because there had been almost no movement in the political and legislative realms for a long time,” says Chen.

Alexander Chen, class of 2015

...But there’s much more work to be done, including advocating for non-discrimination laws at the state and federal levels, advocates say. “It’s pretty simple, I think,” says [Arlington Representative Town Meeting member Amos] Meeks, who has lived with two partners since 2018. “We’re a family, we care deeply about each other, we share expenses and live in the same household and share all the little aspects of life together, but that’s not recognized under existing laws in any way. There’s no recognition and there’s no protection.”

Last spring, PLAC held a media training for people and families in polyamorous relationships. “We had over 40 people attend from the community who were interested in telling their stories,” says Chen, and clinical students followed up by interviewing them and transcribing their stories. ... Polyamorous people are also “very worried about getting fired from their jobs. There are stories of people who put that they were open to non-monogamous relationships on an online dating app and it got back to their boss and they got fired.”

...Polyamory is not only an important frontier in the battle for civil and human rights, but the related legal issues offer an exceptional educational opportunity for HLS clinical students, says Chen. Since last fall, clinical students have worked with city attorneys’ offices in California and Massachusetts to advance polyamorous-friendly legislation, including laws that prohibit discrimination based on relationship structures. Aggarwal has done both advocacy and research for the project, including interviewing people “with very sad stories of discrimination.”

“Pedagogically, it is really interesting. I think students have really enjoyed [working on polyamory rights] for a couple of different reasons,” says Chen.... “For one thing, the legal issues are very novel so it’s very intellectually interesting.” In addition, because they are focused on municipalities, students are learning about different kinds of governance structures, and learning how to build coalitions as they work to get local laws passed. 

A core question for the clinic is imagining the future of LGBTQ+ advocacy, “and how we make sure our work remains relevant and exciting,” says Chen. As part of an academic research institution, “we are able to take on some things that are a little bit harder for some others to take on.”

...With a number of impact litigation cases as well as advocacy work, the clinic is growing rapidly. A new clinical instructor has been hired, and the clinic has expanded from six students in the spring to ten this coming fall. The PLAC project “is one of several projects we have that are blowing up,” says Chen, “so we’ll have plenty of work.”

Read the whole article

●  Among the outlets quickly noticing this article was the bioethics site BioEdge: Harvard Law School promotes legal rights for polyamory (Aug. 7)

Harvard University is a greenhouse for thought-leaders. So an initiative promoting polyamory rights at Harvard Law School suggests that a new set of civil and human rights is in the making.

...[PLAC's] head, Alexander Chen, who was the first openly trans editor of the Harvard Law Review, told Harvard Law Today that empirical research supports polyamory. “This research shows that these types of relationships are not unhealthy for families and children and can be healthy and stable,” says Chen. ...

●  Also taking note were cultural conservative outlets, such as the Washington Examiner newspaper: Will Polyamory Be the Next 'Win' for Love? (Aug. 6)

We are just six years away from love’s last big win in the Supreme Court, and already love is on the warpath again.

...There is a lot of doubt about how much "love" really has to do with some people’s push for so-called “consensually nonmonogamous” relationships. First of all, it should be noted that of all “nonmonogamous” relationships, the vast majority of them, two-thirds, are nonconsensual. ...

So consensual multi-lovers who are all good with it are bad because non-consensual cheaters are bad, even if consensual groups aren't cheating. Okayyy... Be prepared to engage with this kind of logic. It's really not hard.

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Blogger Xarctos said...

As progressive as New Zealand is we still suck with recognizing polyamory and providing protection against discrimination. So, this makes me hopeful for the future.

Recently there has been a ruling in the NZ family court that a child shall not be exposed to or educated in their parents polyamorous lifestyle by that parent.

August 14, 2021 5:21 AM  

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